Last December, we called 2008 a “banner” year for lesbian films, given the breadth of high-quality options for lesbian filmgoers. 2009 was lacking in “event” films (like Shamim Sarif‘s The World Unseen and I Can’t Think Straight), and possibly less exciting for the lack of truly high-profile lesbian characters in mainstream movies (like Alison Pill’s turn as Anne Kronenberg in Milk).
However, the overall quality, combined with a real creative “shot in the arm,” marks 2009 as a year of quiet innovation in lesbian cinema. With plenty of films with non-traditional (read: web or TV) roots, a glut of interesting documentaries and an influx of excellent foreign and domestic dramas, there was a lot to love about the last year of the decade.
Drama Rules the Day
Dramatic films ruled the features section of 2009, taking on far more daring topics than your usual coming out stories and lesbian pregnancies. Women of color and older women were better represented than in years past, with several strong entries that tackled the complications of race, class, gender and sexuality.
Toughest of all (in terms of subject matter and tone) was indie darling Precious, about an illiterate, HIV-positive teen who endures a brutal cycle of sexual abuse by both mother and father. It was heavy, emotionally taxing and absolutely brilliant — especially accounting for the incredible acting by Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe and Mo’Nique playing the title character and her monstrous mother.
Paula Patton also deserves a mention for her performance as Blu Rain, a lesbian teacher who tries to help Precious at an alternative school.
Gabourey Sidibe and Paula Patton
Similarly heavy (with a strong undercurrent of abuse and oppression) was the fabulous Mississippi Damned, about a poor African-American family living in 1980s Mississippi.
The film (which was written and directed by Itty Bitty Titty Committee scribe Tina Mabry) centers on a variety of characters, including Kari (Tessa Thompson), who wants to escape an impoverished life and go to music school and Leigh (Chasity Kershal Hammitte) her butch lesbian sister, who struggles with an on-again, off-again girlfriend and her religious parents.
Chasity Kershal Hammitte